Inspire Me Monday
The one thing every child needs to hear might surprise you. Then again, maybe it won’t because perhaps it’s something you’ve either longed to hear your entire life or the thing that made you a success. These five hacks will improve your parenting and self-care quotient.
The One Thing Every Child Needs to Know
“My parents think I’m stupid,” he mumbled.
“What do you think?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Don’t know. They tell me I’ll never amount to much.”
My heart ached. I had seen his transcript. Mostly As and Bs in middle school, and then…not much. Huge swaths of time with no credits earned. At eighteen, he had just enough credits to qualify as a sophomore. With hard work, he could graduate in two years.
Time and again I’ve heard the same poem, second verse, from other high school students. Somewhere along their way, they realized that no one believed in them.
It may have started at home, with their parents. Perhaps friends assured them of their lack of worth. Maybe even teachers, oblivious to their bias and prejudice, marked a student (especially non-white male students) as difficult, violent, or otherwise unworthy of unconditional regard.
Shermin Alexie, in his bestseller YA novel has a chapter I weep over every. single. time. I read it. Junior, a freshman in high school on a reservation in Washington, gets suspended from school for chucking his 44-year-old geometry textbook across the room and breaking his teacher’s nose.
Poverty Teaches Us to Be Poor
The teacher, Mr. P, drops by Junior’s house the next day, and they have this conversation,
‘And you’re a bright and shining star, too,’ he said. ‘You’re the smartest kid in the school. And I don’t want you to fail. I don’t want you to fade away. You deserve better.’
I didn’t feel smart.
‘I just want you to say it,’ Mr. P said.
‘I want you to say that you deserve better.’from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
But Junior can’t say the words. The 44-year-old textbooks, the Black-Eye-of-the-Month Club, the indifference, violence, and hopelessness of living in poverty drowns out all the positives he may have ever thought about himself.
Earlier in the book Junior thinks about what being a reservation Indian means.
“It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”Sherman Alexie
Not only does Alexie share a universal truth about poverty, he shines a light on impoverishment. We, as adults, have the power to impoverish or enrich the children around us.
So What is the One Thing Every Child Needs to Hear?
I learn a lot about goal-setting and self-care from reading books that have nothing to do with self-care. In addition to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Katheryn Stockett’s bestseller, The Help, helped me understand the beauty of affirmation. Aibileen, a black housemaid in the South during the 60s, works for a wealthy (but impoverished) white family.
Each day she affirms the daughter of the house, trying to counteract the unkind words the family launches at the child. “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” Although Aibileen doesn’t say the one thing every child needs to know, her trilogy of affirmations means the same thing.
She says, over and over, the one thing every child needs to know—“I believe in you.” And really, we all need to hear that message. We all need to know that someone, somewhere, believes in us. Especially when our resilience wanes, and our worries wax.We all need to know someone believes in us. #selfworth #growthmindset #speaklife Click To Tweet
Kids have the same basic needs as adults—to know someone believes in them, to know someone thinks the best of them, and to know they have value.
Five Hacks for Helping a Child Hear the One Thing She Needs to Know
Maybe you feel like you’re flying with your last tail feather right now. Perhaps the stresses of living in a pandemic have nibbled away at your normal good humor and positive outlook. Whatever the case, these hacks will help you not only take care of yourself but help you take care of the important people in your life.
1. You Have to be Full Before You Can Fill
I learned this lesson while acting as the caregiver to my catastrophically ill husband almost 20 years ago. If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t sustain caring for others without serious consequences for my own health.
Self-care doesn’t mean spending the day at a spa every six months, either. If you want to fill yourself up, you’ll want to focus on four major areas of your life: Mental, Artistic/Academic, Physical, and Spiritual (I call it MAPS). You can find out more about taking care of yourself here.
2. What You Believe About Yourself is Pretty Much What You’ll Believe About Your Children
If you believe you are a failure, you’ll think your kids are a failure. You can only share the same level of self-worth with others. So, if you hate yourself, you will unconsciously hate your children. If you feel shame about yourself, you will make sure your children feel ashamed.
Take note of your inner dialogue about yourself and your children (or other people’s children). What categories do those thoughts fall into? This post on emotional intelligence may help you understand the need to speak well of yourself and your children.
3. Replace the Lies with the Truth
Each time you have a negative self-thought, replace it with the truth. If you berate yourself with, “I always mess up,” replace it with the truth, “I messed up this time, but I know I can do better next time.” When you think, “Nobody loves me,” replace it with the truth, “God loves me unconditionally.”
If you are a person of faith, remember that your identity comes from Jesus—not the lies the devil tells you.
Do the same thing for your children. If you find yourself on the cusp of berating them with, “You always mess up!” replace it with the truth, “You messed up this time. I believe you can do better next time.”
4. Discover Your Child’s Love Language and Affirm it Daily
We all experience and feel loved in different ways. Wise parents figure out their children’s love languages and use that knowledge to affirm their children. You can find free resources here.
Knowing that someone loves us unconditionally will help us understand the one thing every child needs to hear (and adults, too): someone, somewhere, believes in us. We need to not only say it, but we also need to act as if we believe.
5. Help Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset
Model and teach growth mindset vocabulary to your child. When you overhear your child berating herself because she ‘failed’ at something, step in. Tell her, “I believe in you. You can’t do it YET, but you will learn.”
If your son says, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard!” encourage him with these words: “I believe in you. You can’t do it YET, but you’ll get it!”
Above All, Speak Life
It may take weeks, or months, or years to speak life into someone who’s listened to a steady stream of negativity their entire life. But without those words of hope, we simply reaffirm the negative message. Every child needs to hear that someone believes in them.
As Toby Mac, one of my favorite Christian artists says, we need to ‘speak life’ into each other.
“Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted/Watch them come alive/As soon as you speak hope, you speak love, you/Speak life.Speak Life, Toby Mac
The next time you find words of disregard, judgment, prejudice, hate, condemnation, or low regard at the gate of your tongue, clamp your lips and ask how you can speak life into the situation.
Speak life not only into the lives of your children, but into the lives of family members, colleagues, the checker at the grocery store, and complete strangers.